The amount Americans spend on education has risen dramatically and consistently over the past century, with a 25% increase in per-student costs between 1995 and 2005, even after adjusting for inflation. In fact, public education spending accounted for more than one-third of state budgets last year.
Yet taxpayers are regularly asked to dig deeper into their pockets for public schools, all the while having little to no idea how much their district is already spending per child per year. A report released in March by the Cato Institute explains how figures provided by officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs, and thus understate education spending.School districts have devised a formula they call “current expenditures.” That omits very real and expensive costs. Under this subterfuge, they just don’t count many of the costs, such as teachers' health and retirement benefits, building and equipment costs, transportation expenses and debt payments. As a result, the reported per pupil spending figures give a grossly false impression of how much money Americans give to public schools.
A Cato investigation discovered that, on average, per-student spending is 44% higher than officially reported. Real spending per student ranges from nearly $12,000 in Phoenix schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between the reported and the real per-pupil expenditures is 23% in the Chicago area and 90% in Los Angeles. The Cato study also compared public school costs to local private school costs. Public schools are spending 93% more than the estimated median private schools.
Legislation should require every district and state to publish up-to-date spending figures, fully inclusive of every dollar spent on K-12 education. There is no excuse for unaccountable public institutions.
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